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A Political Theory of Criminal Law: Autonomy and the Legitimacy of State Punishment

Markus D. Dubber

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

March 15, 2004

In this article, Markus Dubber considers two questions. First, as a matter of political theory, how can punishment be legitimated in a modern liberal democracy? Second, as a matter of legal theory, what would a system of criminal law look like that satisfied the basic requirements of political legitimacy set out in response to the first question? From early on, the power to punish was viewed as a thoroughly unproblematic instance of the "police power," generally regarded as "the most essential, the most insistent, and always one of the least limitable of the powers of government." As "an idiom of apologetics," the police power cannot generate meaningful limitations on criminal law. For principles of criminal law one must instead turn to the external constraints that political legitimacy places on the power to punish. Ever since the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution, the most basic principle of political legitimacy is the notion of autonomy, or self-government. In this article, Dubber explores the implications of the principle of autonomy for the various aspects of state punishment: criminal law, criminal procedure, and prison law.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 39

Keywords: Criminal law, legal theory, political theory, autonomy, empathy

JEL Classification: K14, K30

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Date posted: April 14, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Dubber, Markus D., A Political Theory of Criminal Law: Autonomy and the Legitimacy of State Punishment (March 15, 2004). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=529522 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.529522

Contact Information

Markus D. Dubber (Contact Author)
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )
78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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